What is the ABA Early Intervention Program?

Our ABA Early Intervention Program is an intensive, short-term program for families of young children with autism spectrum disorder. ABA stands for applied behavior analysis. This therapy is proven to help kids with autism learn new skills to increase positive behaviors (like communicating and interacting with others) and reduce challenging behaviors (like tantrums).

Kids up to age 6 attend the program 4 days a week for 12 weeks, either morning or afternoon. Behavioral therapists and a speech and language pathologist (SLP) work with your child to build their skills. While your child gets high-quality therapy, you and other caregivers learn from behavior therapists, SLPs and family advocates:

  • New ways to communicate with your child
  • Skills to help your child learn
  • Skills to understand the reasons for your child’s challenging behavior and how to help them
  • What services your child needs and how to find them

The program takes place at Seattle Children’s Autism Center.

How will the ABA Early Intervention Program help my child?

Therapy and support at an early age can have a direct effect on your child’s brain development. This can change the course of your child’s life. With early and intensive therapy, your child can communicate better, letting you know basic things like what hurts or what they want. This reduces problem behaviors and boosts your child’s ability to learn.

We help children get ready to take their next steps in the community — like starting daycare, school or a long-term ABA program. Depending on your child, this could mean teaching them to communicate, follow verbal instructions, interact with others, reduce behavior problems, increase self-soothing actions or become toilet trained.

At the start of our program, many children have little ability to interact. By the end of 3 months, almost all are able to ask for help or let a caregiver know what they want. In the program we:

  • Assess your child’s learning needs
  • Teach skills that help your child be ready to learn, such as sharing interests with others, imitating others or responding to words
  • Work 1-on-1 with your child to improve basic skills areas. These include communication, play, self-care, learning and social skills.

Read Changing the Trajectory, the story of how ABA helped Aliya and Kira.

  • ABA therapy is a way to change behavior in everyday life. It helps increase positive behaviors or skills (like speaking) and reduce challenging behaviors (like tantrums). Our classroom is set up like a preschool. Our behavioral therapists and speech and language pathologist work 1-on-1 with each child in the class.

    A behavioral therapist watches how your child acts and figures out why they do certain behaviors. Perhaps a tantrum serves a child because it gets attention or gets them what they want (such as a favorite toy). The therapist creates a treatment plan based on what will motivate your child to choose better behaviors. Each child’s plan is different. For example, if a child throws a tantrum because they want to stop an activity, the therapist rewards the child for asking to stop instead of having a tantrum.

  • Many children start our program with very limited communication skills. The speech and language pathologist (SLP) takes time to understand your child’s communication abilities and expand them. The SLP helps your child build skills that lay the groundwork for communicating, using words or other strategies like pointing. These skills include focusing attention on the same object as another person (joint attention), play, and understanding simple instructions and basic concepts.

    The SLP also suggests communication strategies you can use at home. Helping a child communicate often eases frustration and improves their behavior. 

  • In a weekly parent education group, you will learn:

    • Ways to help your child build social and communication skills using play and common routines
    • How to reduce problem behavior
    • What public services are available for children with autism and how to get them

    Each week, you will spend time in the classroom watching your child with their therapist. This helps you better understand what your child is doing and how their therapist helps them. Program staff always describe what they are doing while working with your child so you can learn about what you are seeing. You and other caregivers can use these skills at home.

    You will also meet regularly with a parent educator. The topics depend on the needs of your child and family. You may learn more about how to handle:

    • Feeding problems
    • Toilet training
    • Challenges with siblings
    • Behavior challenges at home
  • You will be assigned a family advocate to help you access resources for your child and your family. We help make sure your family has the services you need outside the program. The family advocate can help you:

    • Connect to services and supports you need, such as help paying for food or transportation or mental health services for parents
    • Set up an assessment with your child’s school district and get enrolled in preschool
    • Fill out paperwork for government services and assistance
    • Understand insurance benefits for autism therapies

Scheduling an Appointment with the ABA Early Intervention Program

  • If your child is already being seen at Seattle Children’s Autism Center, ask your child’s provider to refer you.
  • Providers, see how to refer a patient.
  • If your child is not a current patient at Seattle Children’s, ask your child’s primary care provider or mental health provider to refer you to Seattle Children’s Autism Center. At your first visit, we can decide if the ABA Early Intervention Program is right for your child.
  • If you are referred to our program, we will place your child on our waiting list. When a space opens, we will contact you to set up your first visit.
  • Learn about autism resources such as useful links, videos and recommended reading for you and your family.

What to Expect at Your First Visit

  • At your first visit, we will assess your child. We watch your child play. We interact with them to determine their communication, social and thinking skills. We also talk with you about your family’s needs. We will confirm your child’s treatment start date during this visit.
  • After your assessment, we send your child’s treatment plan to your insurance provider for authorization. Medicaid covers the ABA Early Intervention Program. If you have other health insurance, we work with you to see if your insurer will cover it.
  • We try to assign you to the session time you prefer. Sessions are in the morning or in the afternoon.

Who is on the team?

Our team includes:

Psychologist

Psychologists diagnose and treat mental health issues that affect a child’s thoughts, emotions or behavior. They have a doctoral degree in psychology and special training in how and why children behave the way they do.

Behavioral therapist

Behavioral therapists work with you and your child to increase positive behavior and reduce behaviors that may cause harm or affect learning.

  • Elizabeth Hatzenbuhler, MS, BCBA

Speech and language pathologist

Speech and language pathologists (SLPs) check how well your child can speak, understand, read, write and swallow. Our SLP works with the behavioral therapist to set therapy goals to help your child communicate better.

  • Elaine Nguyen, MS, CCC-SLP

Behavior technicians

Behavior technicians work 1-on-1 with your child in the classroom to carry out their custom-made treatment plan.

Family advocates

Family advocates identify the services your child and family need and help connect you to them. We also help you navigate the complex system of services and benefits for kids with autism.

  • Jaimie Sigesmund, MAT

Contact Us

If your child is already being seen at Seattle Children’s Autism Center, ask your child’s therapist to refer you. If your child is not a current patient, ask your child’s primary care provider or mental health provider to refer you to Seattle Children’s Autism Center.

Providers, see how to refer a patient.

Paying for Care

Learn about paying for care at Seattle Children’s, including insurance coverage, billing and financial assistance. The program is primarily for families who get their health insurance through Medicaid.